You can repave the track but not the history or the tradition.
At least that's what many NASCAR drivers hope as they prepare for their first race at the newly repaved Darlington (S.C.) Raceway this weekend.
Since the 2008 season's Mother’s Day weekend of NASCAR racing, International Speedway Corp. has invested more than $10 million in improvements at the 58-year-old speedway, including a new racing service and improvements to the infield tunnel.
The track has been loved and hated by drivers for its gritty surface, odd egg shape and the many "Darlington stripes" received for close shaves with the walls.
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"I consider winning the 50th Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway the biggest win of my career," said Jeff Burton.
"Winning at Darlington is more than a trip to Victory Lane and a trophy; it means your name goes down in the record books as a winner at one of NASCAR's most historic tracks."
Friday night's Nationwide Series race and Saturday night's Dodge Challenger 500 Sprint Cup race will be the first since the new track surface was completed.
"I go into it with a lot more questions than answers, and that's exactly how I'll start when I get in the car," said Burton, who has four Nationwide and two Cup wins at the track.
"I have the Nationwide car there and I have time to try to figure it out, and that's how I'll walk into it.
"I'm not concerned about running the fastest first lap of the day. I'm worried about when the day is over, what did we learn, and what can we apply toward Friday, and then, of course, apply that to Saturday night.
"That's how I approach it."
Many of the questions drivers have surround what tire Goodyear will use. Tire choices for recent repaving projects at Charlotte and Bristol have caused concern.
Goodyear officials have conducted two tests at Darlington with drivers Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon in order to choose a tire for this weekend.
"Granted, Darlington wasn't the best race track we went to as far as racing side-by-side, three-wide action and things like that," said Newman. "It was a fun drivers' track and what you saw in the end was a pretty good race.
"We came back for the second (tire) test and felt like we had a tire that's going to live and be racy and the drivers won't complain about. Track position is going to be extremely important. With the speed, it's going to be that much more difficult to pass with a car that is very similar to your competition."
Most driver feedback from the Goodyear tests seemed to predict a faster pace this weekend. Smoother pavement would also likely lead to increased speeds.
"I think the new paving job they did is fantastic. The first race, we're going to be challenged with that new surface, but I think long-term wise, it's going to be fantastic," said Jeff Gordon, who has seven Cup wins at Darlington.
"I think it's a track with so much history and a track that I've always enjoyed racing at, and the fans have always enjoyed it, too. It's important to keep it on the schedule."